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9 Feb 1999 : Column WA13

Written Answers

Tuesday, 9th February 1999.

Sudan: Kidnappings

Lord McNair asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Which British and other European Union citizens, and Commonwealth nationals, have been kidnapped in Sudan since 1990; who was responsible for the kidnappings; and what was the outcome of the kidnappings.[HL753]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): Our records show that one British citizen has been kidnapped in Sudan since 1990. He was kidnapped on 25 May 1998 by members of the Sudan People's Liberation Army and released unharmed on 19 June 1998.

We do not keep records of European Union or Commonwealth citizens.

Iraq: No-Fly Zones

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the new United States policy of attacking Iraqi air defence systems in the United States/United Kingdom-declared "no-fly zones" whether or not these systems' radar locks onto United States or United Kingdom aircraft (as announced by Mr. Berger, President Clinton's National Security Adviser, International Herald Tribune, 27 January), is permitted in international law; whether this escalation was agreed between them and the United States; and, if so, whether they will spell out those United Nations Security Council resolutions or articles in the United Nations Charter under which such attacks may be lawful.[HL784]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: UK and US aircraft continue to enforce the No-Fly Zones. In response to the threat from the Iraqi aircraft and air defence systems, allied aircraft have responded in self-defence, in a proportionate manner. The action is justified under international law, on the basis of self-defence.

The UK and US keep in close contact over all issues relating to patrolling of the No-Fly Zones.

Sudan: Al-Shifa Chemical Factory

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they obtained any independent information to confirm President Clinton's assurance to the Prime Minister that the al-Shifa factory in Khartoum which United States forces attacked last summer was engaged in the production of weapons of mass destruction; and, if not, why they have not

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    accepted the Sudanese Government's invitation to the United Nations Security Council and to the international community to inspect the factory and other facilities in the Sudan concerning which the United States has expressed similar suspicions.[HL787]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The US said at the time of the strike that they had compelling evidence that the plant was being used for the manufacture of chemicals for use in chemical weapons.

The invitation from the Sudanese Government is in the form of a draft resolution submitted to the UN Security Council, which is the appropriate place for such an invitation to be considered.

We shall, in any case, continue to encourage Sudan to become a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention which prohibits the acquisition, development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. It is supported by a verifications regime consisting of data declarations and on-site inspections.

Iraq: Military Operations

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are inclined to accept the "demand" from the Arab Foreign Ministers, meeting in Cairo last weekend, that "military operations against Iraq" be not repeated; and whether (a) Kuwait, (b) Saudi Arabia and (c) Turkey are content that the United States and the United Kingdom should continue to use their territory from which to carry out military operations over Iraq.[HL788]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Her Majesty's Government share the wish of the Arab League to find a diplomatic way forward on Iraq. In this respect we welcome the agreement reached in the Security Council on 30 January. We look to Baghdad to co-operate so that the progress we would all like to see can be achieved. But we have made clear that we remain ready to take further military action if Iraq attempts to reconstitute its weapons of mass destruction or threatens its neighbours.

We enjoy good relations with the governments in the region who generously host RAF detachments. Our aircraft could not operate from their territory without their consent.

Embassies: Terrorist Threats

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the United States decision to heavily fortify its embassies in Muslim countries may leave British embassies increasingly vulnerable to retaliatory attack, in the light of the unique support this country is giving to United States military action.[HL789]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, working with the security

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and intelligence agencies, keeps the level of threat to our diplomatic missions and staff from terrorist or other forms of violence under constant review. The risk to each mission is assessed and appropriate physical or other protective measures are introduced as necessary, taking account of relevant local factors.

Hearing Aids: Prescriptions

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many hearing aids outside the normal NHS range have been prescribed so far.[HL832]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman): The information requested is not held centrally. NHS Supplies only holds information relating to the goods it provides to the National Health Service.

Propellant: Procurement

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish asked Her Majesty's Government:

    For each propellant currently supplied to the Armed Forces from the Royal Ordnance factory at Bishopton, what is the intended future source of these propellants after the closure of the plant, indicating for each if a contract has been entered into, and what guarantees have been given as to the secure continuity of supplies.[HL852]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert): Further to my answer of 28 January (WA 165), the supply of sub-components, including propellant, for equipment supplied under existing MoD contracts is a matter for Royal Ordnance and other prime contractors until completion of the contract. Future MoD requirements for propellant will be subject to procurement decisions in due course. We expect that alternative sources of propellant will be available from friendly and reliable sources in Europe, or further afield. Suitable arrangements will be made to ensure security of supply of equipment and ammunition.

Spratt Report: South Coast Biological Defence Trials

Baroness David asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will publish the independent review conducted by Professor Brian Spratt into the south coast biological defence trials.[HL935]

Lord Gilbert: Professor Brian Spratt has now completed his review of the microbiological defence trials conducted along the south coast in the 1960s and 1970s. The MoD welcomes his main findings:

    That the trials would have caused no harm to the vast majority of people.

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    That, although there may have been an unquantifiable risk of infection in a small number of people who had a serious underlying disease, such as cystic fibrosis, any such infections would have been infections of the chest or blood and would have occurred within days of release of the bacteria.

    That it is extremely unlikely that there is any link between the bacteria released in the trials and health problems reported by people who have suffered chronic ill health, miscarriages, or who have had children with disabilities.

I have arranged for a copy of Professor Spratt's full report to be placed in the Library of the House.

House of Lords Appellate Committee: Composition

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked the Lord Chancellor:

    Whether, in the light of the opinion contained in the report of the European Commission of Human Rights of 20 October 1998 in McGonnell v. United Kingdom, he intends to make any changes in the composition of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords so as to satisfy the requirements of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.[HL719]

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): The commission has referred the case of McGonnell v. United Kingdom to the European Court of Human Rights for consideration. The Government will consider the court's decision on the case in due course and any relevance it may have for the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords.

Scotland: Pig Industry

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What estimates have been made of the optimum number of breeding sows in Scotland to sustain a viable pig industry; what the current numbers are; and by how much Scotland is over or under provided.[HL853]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): The size of the Scottish breeding herd is determined by many factors, including domestic as well as international supply and demand. 74,000 breeding pigs were recorded at the 1998 June Agricultural Census. Numbers will have dropped substantially since then, as a result of major market over-supply.

Recognising the difficulties facing the Scottish pig industry, I initiated an in-depth study last summer into the challenges it faced. The report, by the Scottish Agricultural College, will be published in the near future.

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